May 15, 2015

6 Ways to Help Your Child Avoid Headache Triggers

Recurrent headaches and migraines (a moderate-to-severe headache), are common health complaints for children and adolescents. About 75 million children in the United States report experiencing headaches by the age of 15.

The number of children with headaches increases with age. When children are young, boys often have more headaches than girls; however when they hit their teen years, girls with headaches outnumber the boys.

There are different types of headaches which are diagnosed based on the child’s symptoms and the frequency of the headaches. These include tension type headaches, cluster headaches, migraine headaches or a mixed headache which is a combination of symptoms.  These headaches can be intermittent, become chronic or occur daily.

Migraines in Children are Different Than Migraines in Adults

There are several subtle differences in migraines experienced by children compared to those experience by adults. A child's migraine includes the following symptoms.

  1. A child's migraine generally lasts a shorter amount of time than a migraine in an adult.
  2. The migraine pain in a child typically occurs on both sides of the head.
  3. The migraine pain in a child is generally located in the front part of the head.
  4. A child's migraine pain is often accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting and sensitivity to lights and sounds.

Very young children may not be able to tell you that they are having sensitivity to lights or sounds until they are older, but often young children experiencing migraines will want to be in a dark quiet room.

Warning Signs a Headache Is Coming

Some children have an aura which means that they can tell that a headache is coming before it starts.  Sometimes an aura can be visual like seeing spots or light flashes, sometimes auras can be sensory like a feeling of “pins and needles”  or numbness.  This information can be helpful when the healthcare provider is determining how to treat the headaches.

If headaches are frequent and keep your child from daily activities, you may want to explore daily medication to help prevent the headaches from happening so often.  There are also medications available that will help to break severe headaches when they occur.

Avoid Triggers

Encourage your child to take the following actions to help avoid triggers that cause headaches:

  1. Drink water - Kids should drink about 1 ounce per kg or ½ ounce per pound per day. Teenagers should drink at least 64 ounces per day – that’s about a 2 liter bottle! Athletes need even more than these recommendations to stay well hydrated!
  2. Eat regularly - Eat three healthy meals each day — that means not skipping breakfast!
  3. Get enough sleep - Consistently get the appropriate amount of sleep.
  4. Exercise - Get at least 30 minutes of exercise three to five times during the week.
  5. Control stress.
  6. Take prescribed medication - If medicine has been prescribed, take it.

Children should be evaluated by their pediatrician if headaches are bothersome.  If the headaches are frequent and affect school attendance or other activities, or if common treatments are not working, your child can be referred to the Pain Management Center at Children's Medical Center for further evaluation.